I was outside stacking wood on Friday, Black Friday that is, and my old neighbor, BJ stopped by. He is a rough-and-tumble guy, but he has a heart of gold and is very generous. He used to work at factory in Barre building wind turbines, but was laid off. He has a wife and a little two-year old baby. To make money he does odd jobs around town. We got to talking and had a very poignant discussion about the vacuum of accountability and leadership in national politics, how our country’s future seems bleak and the lack of cohesiveness we have as citizens of this nation. In the past few days I’ve had a similar discussion with several people.
At some point, it seems our society started to value stuff, material, and consumption more than one another, community, and the greater good. The currency of kindness was replaced with greed. I find it ironic that Thanksgiving, a holiday centered on family and friends and the simple pleasure of a meal, culminates in a hysterical shopping spree for multiple days around the country. I don’t remember Small Business Saturday or Cyber Monday ever occurring before this year, but maybe these days were created with the intent that if we all spend enough money, we can get the economy going again. So, enough of the political statements, and philosophical ponderings—I decided to go to JULIEN to find some books that could provide a context for the buying craze—below is a selection.
In Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture, Ellen Ruppel Shell explores America’s obsession with buying cheap discounted items, like “mini tool boxes” and key chains and flashlights which break a month later. Cheap is valued over quality and products are devoid of craftsmanship. Shell says that such environmental and social implications are “insidious and alarming.” Shell asserts that bargains contributed to the recession, have “cramp[ed] innovation, contribut[ed] to the decline of once flourishing industries, and threaten our proud heritage of craftsmanship.”
Annie Leonard, VLS honorary degree recipient, and author of The Story of Stuff writes about the five stages of our consumption-driven economy and its impact on the planet and our communities. Leonard claims that cheap goods compromise consumer health and well-being and that factory workers sacrifice their health, safety and quality of life to make the cheap stuff we buy. Leonard optimistically offers solutions for changing our excessive consumptive culture.
Wal-Mart had a ton of deals for black Friday, and I just checked their cyber Monday deals too: a 32 inch flat-screen TV is $209 dollars; a fisher-Price Power Wheels Hot Wheels Jeep 6-Volt Battery-Powered Ride-on is just $99, and a Danskin Now – Women’s Velour Hoodie and Pants Tracksuit is just $12. So how does Wal-Mart maintain these prices and what is this company’s impact on our lives? Charles Fisherman in The Wal-Mart Effect explores these questions.
BJ was not enthused about Black Friday or any of the newly created shopping days and told me he would not participate. But, he did tell me about his new political party, the “The Swamp Yankees” which he will create in opposition to the greed, the stalemate in Washington. The folks in this party instead, he asserted, would at least attempt to solve problems, would not sell their seats to the highest bidders, and would actually care about their neighbors and the future of the country. I think he might have something going and perhaps we can make a new day of it too: Swamp Yankee Day!